Walking down the stretch of North Milwaukee between Diversey and Fullerton is enough to give you whiplash. To your left, there’s a farmers’ market; to your right, a movie theater; to your left, an arcade; to your right, a giant mural; to your left and your right and your left and your right again, a craft cocktail bar—I’m getting dizzy just thinking about it.
Maybe that’s why it took me so long to notice the unassuming one-story cottage that sits unobstructed in Logan Square Park. There are no neon lights, no lines out the door (usually), and there’s no signage to indicate that it’s anything other than a garden shed. But for those who take a moment to walk the grassy path that leads to its door, Comfort Station provides an oasis filled with art, camaraderie, and history.
I first found moments of Zen on Comfort Station’s front lawn, on a night spent stumbling between a mystery shot at Crown Liquors and some questionable dance moves at the Owl. I admired its Tudor-style exterior through blurred vision, wondering how such a quaint structure could have possibly landed here—like a farmhouse in the middle of Oz. It reminded me of buildings in the small town I grew up in, all flower shops and bookstores and tiny village museums—a building that should exist far away from the rest of this street. It seems it would have been easy to tear down this structure for a new housing complex or hipsterfy it into a bar where servers wear suspenders and cocktails go for $14 each. But no, there it stands, untouched in a neighborhood that continues to change rapidly.
Comfort Station was built in 1926 as one of many warming stations and public restrooms along early transit lines. In the 1940s it was simply a vacant building; in the early 2000s it was used to store landscaping tools belonging to the Department of Transportation. And by 2005, the city finally realized how cool it was that this little building had stood the test of time. Logan Square Preservation cleaned up the space and opened the doors to a group of volunteers who have been using it as a multidisciplinary art space ever since.
The first time I actually walked through Comfort Station’s doors, it was daytime and I wasn’t going to or coming from a local watering hole. I was there for a show called Once in a Lifetime: three comedians presented their own MST3K-style commentaries on the Lindsay Lohan Lifetime vehicle Liz and Dick while the audience kicked back, laughed, and drank juice boxes. Unlike other casual comedy events held in bars or clubs, the little details of this one at the Comfort Station made it feel like being in someone’s home. Maybe a lot of planning went into setting up the projector and booking the comedians, etc, but the gathering felt like kismet, especially when the group organically made its way to the outside lawn, where a piñata was waiting. In that moment, a group of strangers became best friends, trying their darnedest to knock a papier-mache donkey’s lights out.
That’s the feeling of every event there. From art shows like the Pretend Garage Sale to literary events like the Zine Pop-Up to gaming gatherings like a live action role-playing demonstration, there’s a sense that magic happens within the protected confines of Comfort Station. Just as the building itself has remained untouched, so has the creative spirit that now drives the space. I dare you to find another perfectly preserved 1920s structure in Chicago where you can get a custom portrait of a butt.